Risk Evaluation

This school was destroyed by a tornado.
This school was destroyed by a tornado.

It is nearly impossible to prepare for every possible disaster. I was talking to an American Red Cross employee about disaster preparedness. She said that the most common disaster for the American Red Cross is a house fire. In the course of our conversation she shared and interesting discovery with me. Their office had never handled a disaster they prepared for. They work to prepare for a wide variety of scenarios, but had never had an incident unfold exactly as they had trained. However, their ability to handle nearly any situation comes because of dedicated research, preparation and practice.

While you can’t predict with any great accuracy what events you might encounter, you can evaluate your risks and prepare for the most likely events. Your risks vary depending on geographical location, weather patterns, city size and other personal circumstances.  A person living on Tornado Alley should give great attention to tornado protection while another living on the San Andreas Fault in California would have greater risk of earthquake. Some events, such as an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) or solar flare may be a shared risk for inhabitants of a very large geographical area.

The formula we like to use to calculate our risk is:

Probability of an Event x Consequence = Risk

P x C = R

This formula takes into account two important variables. The likelihood that this event will occur in your specific circumstances (location, history, etc.) and the possible severity of consequences which may occur from a given event.  It is impossible to predict the exact probability and consequences. The goal is to help you understand where you should focus your efforts. You may assign any percentage you wish to your event – this is just a guideline. None of us have a crystal ball which allows us to see into the future so just give it your best guess.

Probability assessment may include:

  • Not likely to occur
  • Not likely but a definite possibility
  • Equal chances of occurring or not occurring
  • More likely to occur than not
  • Absolutely certain this event will occur

Consequences may be categorized into:

  • Inconvenient – short term loss of power, minimal property damage, no risk to life or health
  • Minimal – power loss, minimal property damage, minimal risk of injury or compromised health, life will return to normal with only a short interruption
  • Moderate – Some destruction/loss of property, limited food or water availability, moderate risk to life or health, day-to-day activities interrupted, physical safety at some risk
  • Severe – Serious illness, long term power outage, critical disruption of infrastructure or supply chain, usual daily routines impossible, life changes drastically, physical safety at risk
  • Catastrophic– Death, mass casualties, life changes drastically

Using this formula, we can calculate our personal risk and focus our efforts on the events which pose the greatest risk for us personally. While some risks have a small probability of occurring the consequences may be so great that it requires our time and attention. Let us run through a few examples.

We live in an area which is prone to severe winter storms. The probability of having a severe winter storm in any given year is around 95 percent. We calculate our risk for severe winter storms as:

Severe winter storm risk for Jones family – high risk with moderate consequences.  We pay good attention to this risk. We address it by preparing for winter storms with alternative heating, lighting and cooking sources, food and water supplies, along with ways to entertain the family for extended periods without power.

Remember these calculations are quite subjective. Jonathan and I would calculate each score a little differently due to our individual perspectives. The exact number is not what matters. The goal is to determine the amount of risk in order to direct our preparedness efforts.

Another scenario would be the risk of a geomagnetic storm (solar flare) or an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP). Some scientists are predicting a solar flare in the near future. We can only guess at the level of damage this may cause. The technology and means to detonate an EMP is currently in the hands of terrorists. The consequences of a natural geomagnetic storm or man-made EMP are similar. Wide spread long-term power outages, which would immediately cripple us, interrupting transportation, water, sewage, communication and food supplies.

National Geographic made a video entitled Electronic Armageddon. This movie is a great way to get a basic understanding of what an EMP is and the effect it could have on you.

In my humble opinion, I would estimate a .50 probability, but a severe consequence level. We should spend some energy and resources in preparing for a geomagnetic storm or an EMP. The greatest concern is long term power outages. We need to plan for alternative power for our home for a year or more. This means alternative heating, cooking, lighting, sanitation, etc. We should be prepared for the inability to get any supplies from outside sources for at least a year. A one year supply of food, critical medications, clothing and other supplies would be important. This is a huge task. Set realistic goals and make steady progress toward those goals. Start with a two week supply, then one month. Keep making progress.

Have you noticed a common theme in each of these risks? While each may have a few unique preparations, most have the same basic requirements. The key is the ability to sustain human life without assistance from an outside source. As we practice provident living we are prepared to handle whatever life throws our way with the least amount of disruption.

Take time to explore the possible risk links on this site. Educate yourself and learn what risks your family should prepare for first.  Make a list and get to work. Remember, this is a process, a journey, not a destination. Life will provide us with all kinds of challenges. We are not preparing for some one time event, while that certainly may occur. We are learning to live the provident life. Make progress one step at a time. Motivate your friends and neighbors to prepare. Together we can rise to meet any challenge and emerge stronger and better for the opportunity to face it.

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